The Making of Jaws and Life of Pi

This year’s Open Air Cinema begins with two films showing at Tinside Lido on the weekend of the 22 July, Jaws and Life of Pi. These two stories that are ultimately about survival on the water.

What is different about them from a film making point of view is that Jaws’ ocean scenes were filmed on the Atlantic Ocean just off the East Coast of America using traditional special effects.  Life of Pi’s ocean scenes was filmed in a giant wave tank in an abandoned Taiwanese airport utilising modern CGI special effects to re-create vast quantities of the Pacific Ocean.

The production of Life Of Pi is primarily defined by its use of state of the art special effects and the wave tank that actor Suraj Sharma spent a great deal of his time in. Watching the film of course you would have no idea it was filmed in an abandoned airport and the visual effects are some of the most stunning committed to film. Compared to CGI of fairly recent films like The Hobbit trilogy where it is over used, the effects in Life of Pi look far more natural and deservedly won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects back in 2013. When it was released at the end of 2012 to coincide with the Oscar season it was highly praised and Ang Lee won the coveted Best Director award. He had been attempting to get the novel (by Yann Martel) made since 2009 and is one of the few directors to bring a supposedly ‘unfilm-able’ novel to the big screen. Obviously twenty years ago Life of Pi could not be made and is a fine example of how CGI can be used imaginatively and successfully.

The production of Jaws is the stuff of legend. There have been countless books and documentaries about its torturous shoot. The first half of the film set on Amity Island where Police Chief Brody (played perfectly by Roy Scheider) is trying to convince and work out how to handle this terrorizing Great White Shark. There are fewer stories on this part of the production as most of the scenes are not anything out of the ordinary when it comes to making a film. The second half of the shoot where Chief Brody, Robert Shaw’s Sea Captain Quint and Richard Dreyfuss’ Marine Biologist Hooper go out on the ocean to face the shark head on was an absolute nightmare.

Unlike Life of Pi which used a CGI Tiger to play Richard Parker, Spielberg decided to use a mechanical Shark (nicknamed ‘Bruce’) as his main special effect. For most of the production the shark did not work, hence why it is only seen in the final third of the film. Instead they changed things up and decided to barely show the shark and use the film score instead. Thankfully John Williams was on board to deliver the iconic Jaws theme and the music has terrified audiences for the past forty years.

There were many other problems with the film’s production. It went over budget, the cast and crew fell ill due to being out at sea for days on end and Robert Shaw took a disliking to Richard Dreyfuss which comes across in some of Quint and Hooper’s heated exchanges in the film. Reflecting on the harrowing shoot of the film, Steven Spielberg stated in an interview with Ain’t It Cool News, I was naïve about the ocean, basically. I was pretty naïve about mother nature and the hubris of a filmmaker who thinks he can conquer the elements was foolhardy, but I was too young to know I was being foolhardy when I demanded that we shoot the film in the Atlantic Ocean and not in a North Hollywood tank.’

The two films being shown next week are similar in the sense that the productions were complicated, expensive and difficult. However more often than not films with a troubled production are often more interesting, for example Apocalypse Now. In this case Jaws is a classic that has stood the test of time and should continue to do so and Life of Pi is a modern classic which should be well remembered in the years to come.

Ben Cherry

Sea Swim: Head Above Water
This event is organised in conjunction with Peninsula Arts’ exhibition Sea Swim: Head Above WaterWe will also be screening a programme of Artist Moving Image related to the Sea Swim exhibition at the Tinside Lido screenings. Plymouth Arts Centre is organising this event jointly with Peninsula Arts.


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